A new law passed in Beijing forbids men rolling up their T-shirts in the heat, according to CNN. The popular method of combating high temperatures has earned the nickname “Beijing Bikini.” But qigong stresses the belly as a passageway of qi.
CNN reports that authorities in Jinan, a city of nearly nine million people, issued a notice earlier this month ordering all members of the public to keep their shirts on—and unfurled—in public places. The law is the result of a movement that hopes to label shirtless men, public bickering, littering, and some other social practices as “uncivilized.” However, in feng shui and qigong, the belly area is considered a center for qi, or natural energy, to be gathered and released again. So where do these practices stand in the “Battle of the Belly”?
Feng Shui and the Beijing Bikini
Qi is said to be a form of natural energy—not the kind that powers your house or car, but a flowing life force in nature that is often compared to wind and water. Both wind and water are light and almost intangible but they can erode mountains. Qi is said to be the same. So how could we hope to control such a thing?
“Wind and water in the Chinese language is ‘feng shui,’ which is also the name of an ancient Taoist science of manipulating or designing our environment so that wind and water and qi energy can flow in just the right amounts and in the most beneficial ways in our lives,” David-Dorian Ross, International Master Tai Chi Instructor, said. “Qigong [is] the ancient Chinese craft of manipulating the inner life force—the qi—for health, self-defense, and spiritual development. By learning certain breathing and visualization techniques, we learn how to improve the circulation of qi throughout all parts of the body.”
Much of qi circulation in the body revolves around the body’s center, the abdomen. The yoga-like qigong practice of tai chi is meant to encourage the flow of qi, and keeping the abdomen open and free is a major component of tai chi. Jinan’s new law, requiring the covering up of bellies in public, can easily be seen as being in direct opposition to that.
Five Element Theory
Another popular theory of balancing one’s qi is that of the five elements. “From the most ancient times, Chinese culture has imagined that the world is made up of five basic elements: wood, water, fire, earth, and metal,” Ross said. “In fact, the flow of qi is mapped as to when each element is most influential on the human body.” Here, Ross alluded to the fact that each of the five elements represents a different time of year. It’s little surprise that fire represents summer and heat. “But the five elements are also an expression of qi energy,” he said. “Fire, as the season of summer, is also associated with the sun, the color red, and the human organ of the heart.” Other examples follow for each element—for example, Ross mentioned wood’s association with growth, the liver, and springtime, but also with emotions like anger.
Like the rest of qigong, the Five Element Theory emphasizes balance and a harmonious relationship. “The five elements both create and destroy each other,” Ross said. “Water creates wood (you pour water on a seed and it grows); wood creates fire (you take wood and light it on fire and it creates a flame). Fire creates earth, because after the wood is burned, you’re left with ashes, which are like the soil; earth creates metal (if you dig into the earth, you can pull out iron); and metal creates water, because if you heat up metal and it melts, it becomes a liquid.”
Ross also explained that when these five elements are out of order, they destroy one another. “Fire destroys metal (if you heat up the metal with fire, the metal is no longer consistent); but metal destroys wood (the sharp point of the ax destroys the tree),” he said. “Wood destroys earth—again, if you look at the tree as it sends its roots down into the earth, it makes it erupt and move out of the way—but the earth destroys water. If you put it up in enough quantity it makes a dam, blocking the river. And water destroys fire—of course, you pour water on the fire and it puts it out.”
As record summer temperatures rage on, there couldn’t be a worse time for Jinan to outlaw the Beijing Bikini. The practices of feng shui and qigong agree, since they focus on energy flow throughout the body’s center.
David-Dorian Ross contributed to this article. Ross is the founder and CEO of TaijiFit and the creator of the TaijiFit mind-body exercise program. He has a B.A. in Human Movement Studies from San Francisco State University and has completed graduate course work in Physical Education and Chinese.